When it comes to property, choosing the right estate agent, whether it’s for sales or lettings, is a massive decision. You’re putting a valuable asset in the hands of someone who, you hope, will do their very best for you.
If you are a landlord, how do you choose the right agent to manage your portfolio, be it 1 property or a number of properties? What are the factors that determine your choice? What are your expectations? Have you communicated your wishes to the agent? Do they understand what you want from them?
Some landlords, and they are in the minority, will have a clear idea of what they want from their lettings agent. Invariably, they will have experienced poor service at some point and, therefore, know what they want. Some landlords will research the marketplace, look at reviews, talk to friends and fellow landlords and whittle down their choice to 2 or 3 agents and then choose from there. Then there are the landlords who base their decision purely on fee and, finally, the landlords who just pluck a name off the internet and hope for the best.
So which one are you?
Let’s start with the agents who have a clearly defined expectation from their lettings agent. These landlords have, more than likely, been doing this for some time and would have, at some point, experienced the downside of choosing a cheap agent. They will have researched the local agents and determined that there are probably only one or two agents that will meet their criteria. They will invite these agents to put forward a proposal as to how they work, what they do as a minimum and how they react to given scenarios. Based upon the replies, the landlord will make a decision.
Those landlords with minimal experience of choosing a lettings agent, but with a sound business background, will opt for the reviews, word of mouth and/or a referral. Again, their choice of lettings agent will be a business decision where the landlord is assured that the lettings agent will manage the property/properties with professionalism and will report succinctly to the landlord.
The landlords who base their entire decision on fee can expect, in some cases, a bumpy ride. Choosing anything based on the lowest price can sometimes work to your advantage. For example, if a product is cheaper in one supermarket than another then, of course, you will buy it where it’s cheapest, But using that same principle when choosing a lettings agent could prove your downfall. When you get you car serviced do you choose the cheapest garage where they might use reconditioned parts or do you go to the garage that has served you well in the past and given you good service, albeit that they’re more expensive? Most of us probably choose the latter. Why, because it gives us piece of mind. So why don’t some landlords use that principle when choosing a lettings agent? You’re about to hand over something worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to someone you don’t really know simply to save a few pennies. Is that good business practice?
The same could be said for those few landlords who simply pluck a name off the internet, or get it from a lettings board, and just give the agent their property/properties. Invariably, these landlords just want someone to relieve them of the burden of managing a property, of dealing with tenants and sorting out issues. They’re not really focussed on the bigger picture, the long-term aspects to being a landlord. In some ways, they’re not dissimilar to people who just book a restaurant because it had availability, rather than wait a day or two to go to their favourite restaurant. It’s a means to an end.
So how do you choose a lettings agent?
It all depends on what you, the landlord, wants from them. Obviously, you want them to manage the day-to-day matters and report when necessary. That’s the bare minimum you should expect. But what about the rest? Yes, there is a lot more to a lettings agent than firefighting.
Let’s start with the marketing of a property. Most of you probably think that a property just goes onto the internet, the agent gets calls and finds you a tenant. There is some truth to that, but it’s the finer points that make the difference. The right wording on the internet to attract the best tenants, sifting through the enquiries in detail to get a shortlist of potential tenants and then making sure that the tenants that go forward for referencing are the best for you, the client, and your property.
Then comes the daily administration of your property. Most landlords will tell you that dealing with issues at a property is the biggest headache they can have, so giving that responsibility to a lettings agent is one less thing they have to worry about. A good, professional lettings agent with have reliable tradespeople at their immediate disposal. Trades that can get to a property quickly, if the situation demands it. A lax lettings agent, who charges rock bottom fees, will have some trades available but there is every chance that there will be a delay in responding to some situations, which could be detrimental to your property. Imagine, your tenant calls the agent to report minor leak under the kitchen sink. The good agent will send a plumber there that day, the plumber will assess the work, report to the agent who will report to you and take your instructions and then go back to the plumber. In the meantime, the plumber will have isolated the problem while awaiting instructions. The not-so-focussed agent will hopefully have a plumber they can call. If not, they will try and find one, who could have a high call-out charge, or, worst case scenario, they will ask the tenant to try and isolate the water supply. Don’t believe that. It’s actually happened.
What about regular inspections? How often will they happen? Will they be regular or indeterminate?
They say in politics that a week is a long time. In the property lettings industry a day can be too long, a week can be catastrophic and a month could be the end. Most professional, competent lettings agents will have a structure in place to visit every one of their properties every 3 months. This has been proven to be the optimum amount of time between visits because if there is an issue, it can be dealt with quickly. Imagine a scenario where the tenants of a property have signs of mould developing in their bathroom. On a 3 monthly visit, the agent will address the problem, advise the tenants on what to do and inform the landlord. Hopefully, the 3 month intervention will stop the mould developing. Now put that same scenario into a 6 monthly or, even worse, an annual visit. How bad will the mould be? What further damage will it have caused? How much will remedial works cost?
There was a case recently where a landlord reported that they just didn’t know when their lettings agents, they had 2 in different towns, were doing their inspections. The landlord described it as ” a bit haphazard”. Is that good for the landlord? Is it looking after their asset? Is it serving the tenants?
Finally, a good landlord will have robust reporting procedures. the ability to provide a comprehensive data and audit trail and be able to answer any question that is put to them. The not-so-good agent will bluster, try and dodge confrontation and, ultimately, hope it goes away. The difference between an agent who charges a sensible management fee and one who undercuts the market just to get the business is huge, massive and, in some cases, incalculable.
So, when you choose your lettings agent, choose wisely and with due consideration of what lies ahead.